Thursday, 29 September 2016

Red Dwarf 11.2: Samsara

Warning: This review is being published before the official Dave broadcast of Series XI, at the pace of the UKTV Play streaming service. It's free, it's there right now and I love Red Dwarf too much to wait. If you want to wait for broadcast, stop reading now.

Usually I'm not sympathetic to adultery, but I kind of like these
Red Dwarf XI continues to be fantastic! This is great news! Samsara continues this series' reverence towards Series IV and V with a fascinating episode with a great concept whose foreshadowing is layered from the moment the episode starts. Apparently this episode has been divisive in the fandom - and that's to be expected, with an episode so driven by a simple concept, and one which pushes Red Dwarf norms. I will admit that there are places where this episode could have been considerably improved, but I was laughing throughout and that's generally a good sign.
     The USS Samsara crashes into an ocean planet, a single escape pod launching into orbit. 3 million years later, and after a particularly unlucky game of "Mineopoly", the crew discover the escape pod, its two inhabitants dust and the ship repeating a broken warning. The crew head down to the ship proper and discover through trial and error that the ship was destroyed by its Karma Drive, an offshoot of "Justice Field" technology that manipulated reality to reward those who abide by its moral code, and punishes those who do not. We find out through flashbacks that this was the fault of a pair of crewman, the two in the escape pod, who were engaging in an adulterous relationship and inverted the Karma Drive to continue their affair, only for everyone else on the ship to be punished and destroyed.
     The episode's pacing starts off ambitious, and the mystery hidden within the comedy worked really well, but after the break it starts to go downhill. By the midpoint of the story the mystery becomes a lot more obvious, and the explanations and flashbacks start to feel a little redundant. Added to this is a long, long sequence between Lister and The Cat in the dark which, despite having a great punchline, felt out of character and unfunny. Together they stall the episode and create an incredibly abrupt ending, making me wish that the format of the show on Dave allowed for the extra 6 minutes it's now missing.
Give me strength.
     As to the controversial flashbacks that run throughout the episode, I have no problem with their actual content. While they seem to be following Doug's "dramedy" stylings from Series VII, it works better without the actual cast present, and I don't mind the performances of the two guest actors (whose names I can't find because IMDB doesn't seem to have been updated). I liked the fluidity of the transitions between the past and present, and until the mystery was revealed later on they added a great deal to the tension of the story. I would have watched more of the flashback rather than sit through that cringe-worthy Cat scene again.
    That said, the episode looked just as good as last week, and I really liked that the pacing wasn't as break-neck - I liked the Lister/Rimmer scene at the beginning and I felt that overall the characters were much more familiar. This episode of the season was the one with the lowest budget - and that makes a existence of a few things make more sense - the length of the talking scenes, the relative lack of special effects. I was impressed that the writers decided to do what you *should* do with a bottle episode and make up for a it with a great concept, and as a result this episode is nowhere as bad as it could have been.


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